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Dr. Jeremy Schiller’s story

The COVID-19 pandemic was heavy enough.

As a practicing physician and the Chair of the Salem Board of Health, Dr. Jeremy Schiller was doing his utmost to protect community members from a virus scientists were racing to understand and navigate in real time.

“I had a good relationship with [then Mayor of Salem] Kim Driscoll, and we promoted COVID mitigation strategies that were rooted in science and were progressive and dynamic,” Dr. Schiller says. “Despite overwhelming support from the community, we received a lot of the typical negative responses — and I was ok with that. Science is hard and is always evolving and that is not easy for some to digest and understand.”

However, those responses became personal in December 2021. The Omicron variant was sweeping through Massachusetts and hospitals were dangerously nearing full capacity. The Salem Board of Health, at the urgence of local hospital leaders, instituted a vaccine mandate for local restaurants to help keep area hospitals from a possible catastrophic crisis.

“At that point, there was a real increase in number of those comparing what we were doing to the Holocaust,” Dr. Schiller remembers. “Multiple emails on a daily basis from various people in the community.” Dr. Schiller went out of his way to respond thoughtfully to the emails and educate community members on the actions the Board was taking. However, the correspondences were becoming increasingly antisemitic in nature. Salem’s Health Agent, whose surname sounds Jewish, shared that both he and Dr. Schiller had been the subject of voicemails citing them as “Jews controlling public health.” He also forwarded Dr. Schiller postcards the Board of Health had received that were addressed to “Un ‘Doctor’ Schiller” with a Star of David drawn on it and statements like “FREI” (German for “free”), “GENOCIDE,” and “Justice will come for you” scrawled across them. The Health Department even received a yellow Star of David — badges Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Around this time, a rally was held outside Dr. Schiller’s house (he wasn’t there), organized by Diana Ploss, an independent gubernatorial candidate who, later that week, livestreamed a simulcast of the Board of Health meeting, with hateful comments like, “Look at this Jew, always after money” and “Look at the smug Jew talking” posted on her website. Dr. Schiller, who volunteers in his position as Board Chair, was aghast and disgusted that his efforts to help guide the community safely through the pandemic evolved into an opportunity for antisemites to viciously attack him for the simple fact that he is Jewish.

“It was scary,” Dr. Schiller says. “I contacted Mayor Driscoll and there was no political calculus whatsoever on her part. She immediately released a letter along with the ADL condemning what was going on.” Dr. Schiller also applauds the swift response of Chief Lucas Miller of Salem Police Department in coming to his defense, as well as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Beth Israel Lahey Health, Dr. Kevin Tabb, for reaching out and supporting him.

“To me, there’s a role for condemnation and outrage, but it can’t end there. Education and understanding are critical components to combating antisemitism and hate,” Dr. Schiller says. “That’s why the idea of allyship is so important to me. We can only imagine how many other groups of people feel marginalized. I have a very close family and amazing friends. I can’t imagine how deeply undercutting and painful this would be to someone who doesn’t have that kind of support — because even with that support I can still feel the pain of it today.”

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Rabbi Shlomo Noginski’s story

On July 1, 2021, while standing near the entrance to Shaloh House Jewish Day School in Brighton, Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was approached by a man with a gun who demanded that he give him the keys to his vehicle and then instructed him to get inside the car. Rabbi Noginski, fearing for the lives of the school-aged children attending summer camp within the building, ran from the assailant and, in the ensuing struggle that followed on Brighton Commons, was stabbed a total of eight times in broad daylight.

But for every stab wound, for every ache, pain, and hardship that followed in his slow recovery, Rabbi Noginski is only keeping a tally of all the miracles, including — defying comprehension — being in the right place at the right time.

“I have seen G-d’s hand throughout my life,” Rabbi Noginski says.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Rabbi Noginski’s family was targeted for being Jewish. His mother, a celebrated composer and pianist who had won a national competition and performed in the Kremlin, attracted the attention of antisemites disgusted that a Jew — and a woman — received the award.

The family received multiple death threats and Rabbi Noginski was often physically and verbally attacked. They made aliyah (immigration to Israel) to escape antisemitism in the early 90s and Rabbi Noginski’s mother encouraged him to take up martial arts to defend himself.

Rabbi Noginski believes his black belt in judo played a small role in defending himself from the dozens of relentless stabbing attempts made by his attacker over the course of their struggle that lasted more than 10 minutes. However, he is quick to point to a series of divine interventions for his ability to stave off more serious or even fatal injuries, rather than his “physical prowess.”

“It is G-d’s protection that is the real assistance,” he says. “But the real miracle is that I was outside of the school accidentally. If I came out earlier or later, this young man would have had unhindered access to the school and the camp, and it could’ve been much worse.”

Rabbi Noginski sustained six stab wounds to his left arm and hand and two to his abdomen. The attacker, who was discovered to have a history of using antisemitic slurs, was charged with hate crimes, as well as assault with intent to murder and attempted armed robbery, and the investigation is ongoing.

“In the short term, I simply could not perform any manual physical labor with my left hand or bear any weight, and one of the deeper wounds in my left shoulder affects my ability to do heavy lifting with my left arm,” Rabbi Noginski says. “In terms of emotional rehabilitation, that’s another story.”

Rabbi Noginski sees this attack as “a second birthday,” a blessing, and proof of G-d’s presence in his life. He’s using this incident to infuse the community with “more light and positivity” and has already opened a new Rabbinic Studies program at the school.

“Going forward, I feel I’ve been charged with a mission of doing more than I was before,” he says. “Anything that happens is directed by G-d, and this only strengthens my Jewish pride and identity.”

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Chanie Krinsky’s story

On a May evening four years ago, Chanie Krinsky had just put her three youngest children to bed when she heard rustling outside of her home, the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham.

Thinking it was an expected visitor, she asked her son to greet them at the door, but he reported seeing no one there. Right afterward, her husband, Rabbi Mendy Krinsky, returned home with groceries and Chanie smelled smoke.

“I’m very sensitive to it because I had been in a serious house fire when I was younger,” Chanie explains. Mendy searched inside for the source of the smell and couldn’t find anything when Chanie remembered that the Chabad Center for Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont, the home of Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, had been set on fire just days earlier. She urged Mendy to look outside.

When Mendy opened the door, their son peeked his head out and immediately noticed small flames licking at the side of the house, near the entrance to the synagogue. Because of the rain, because of their access to a fire extinguisher, or, as Mendy and Chanie believe, because of divine intervention, they were able to contain the damage to the exterior and put out the fire before the fire department arrived on the scene.

“As soon as I heard that there was a fire, I woke up the kids who were already in bed, carrying them, half-awake, out of the house and into the car,” Chanie says. From there, Chanie sent out a message to other Chabad residents in their network, explaining what had happened. “I said, we’re safe, be careful out there, you know, in case this person was going around doing this to other places,” she recalls.

Through her chat group, she learned that the Bukiets, once again, had their Chabad set on fire that very evening, just 40 minutes earlier.

“It was hard for us to sleep that night, knowing this person was still out there, knowing that someone was trying to burn our house down,” Chanie says.

The next day — Shabbat — brought hope.

“The number of flowers and gifts and messages of support that we received from the community was so touching,” Chanie says. “Two women from the community suggested holding the Havdalah ceremony outside our house after the sabbath ended, and they told the local temples and churches. We came out of the house on Saturday night and there were more than 400 people there — the police blocked the street. We prayed, we sang songs, it was so moving.”

At the time, people were saying, “Maybe take down the menorah in front of your house, maybe you should hide it, or remove your address online,” Chanie says. “We said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re not going to hide.’ On the contrary, we believe this event and similar ones should be an impetus for growth. The best way to combat antisemitism is to be stronger and prouder Jews.”

“Until the indictment, there was no way to know for sure that it was antisemitism, but we knew even then,” Chanie says. “We’ll never know why he chose ours and the Bukiet’s — but they were both the homes of the Chabad rabbis and their families.”

The man accused of the Chabad arson died before justice could be served, but the mark from the fire remains on the house and, since then, one of her sons was targeted for being Jewish and physically assaulted in Manhattan.

“Sometimes the world can feel scary, but you need to move on, you can’t live with that heaviness,” Chanie says. “We have to be aware, but we trust in G-d and move on. We can’t let this stop us.”

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Sam’s* story

Imagine you’re a sophomore in high school, living in a small, picturesque New England town. You come home from school one day before break, ready to relax, and open your Snapchat to see what your friends are up to. And just like that, you’re confronted with a picture of a swastika made of pennies taken in one of the classrooms of your high school. Sam* doesn’t have to imagine. She and her friend lived it.

Back when Sam and her friend experienced this incident in high school, they had already endured years of cutting comments about their Jewish heritage from their classmates and friends, saying things like “Do you live in little Israel?“ or “I didn’t know Jews were allowed to go trick or treating.” And they shrugged them off because they didn’t want to make waves with people who clearly didn’t understand how offensive they were being.

But when that swastika was posted, it was a step too far to ignore anymore. Enough was enough. “This was posted on social media, so a broad amount of people were seeing it compared to when someone just says a comment to you. You don’t have proof per se, but this was posted, and however many friends he had on Snapchat were however many people were seeing the post,” Sam says.

Sam and her friend decided it was time to make a change. At first, they kept it a secret because they didn’t know if people would understand. When their friends approached them, Sam said, “I’m a minority here. None of you are Jewish and I didn’t know how you were going to react because I was doing something against one of our friends.” They needed help. After talking with their parents, they boldly reached out to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The ADL answered the girls’ call and introduced them to a program called A World of Difference Institute that educates and trains faculty and students on how to deal with issues of discrimination of all types. But there was a slight problem. They needed funding to get the program off the ground in their school. To their relief and delight, the community stepped up. Parents, local businesses, and their high school PCO worked together to raise over $7,000 in just a few short weeks.

To this day, Sam and her friend’s courage to ask for help continues to better their hometown. “My youngest brother who’s seven years younger than me is at my high school now, and he’s being taught these things [by A World of Difference Institute] […] It’s really important to me to know that they are still doing it and they are still educating the teachers and the kids.”

Sam knows that the work isn’t done. “It’s so weird to me because I just graduated college and I feel like I’m still actively doing things for this, and I was 16 years old when I first started. I did not think that six or seven years later this would be staying with me.” Even though antisemitic incidents are up all over America and “it’s a really scary time to be a Jewish woman,” Sam keeps moving forward. “I like to help out as much as I can. People still reach out to me asking if I can help and I try and do that in the best way possible.”

By sharing her and her friend’s story again, Sam has given hope to the next generation one more time.

* Name changed upon request due to safety concerns. 

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Andie’s story

It all started with a “harmless” joke.

Andie, just beginning their conversion to Judaism, was simply trying to connect with their family at the movies. On any given day, Andie is generally guarded around their family, and with good cause. “A lot of members of my family of origin are pretty homophobic and say a lot of really insensitive or offensive things — before and after I came out.” Ready to endure and respond to this kind of behavior, they set off to hopefully make the best of an evening together.

But their cousin had other ideas. Andie was extremely close with this cousin and his sister, “they were basically two extra members of my family.” But “as we grew up, he really started saying and doing things that were not ok — being really sexist, being really homophobic.” And Andie tried to avoid him and stay in a space that made them feel safe, but he caught them off guard.

While waiting in line for popcorn, their cousin decided now was his moment. He said, “Why are the rabbis running down the street? They were chasing a penny.” Andie was stunned. They were ready to hear offensive comments, but not about their newly found religion. Andie’s safe space was torn apart.

No one thought there was anything wrong with Andie’s cousin’s casual antisemitism, not even their mother, who as a devout Christian that believes Christians are persecuted in American society, might be the one person to truly get it. But she simply dismissed Andie’s concern with, “Don’t pay attention to it.”

Andie’s family has a history of not understanding where they’re coming from. “I’m neurodivergent, I do and say weird things and I have a very funky sense of humor, and I kind of feel like that puts a target on me a little bit with my family.” And on top of that, they grew up in a far-right-leaning, religious household where they were told their whole lives that being gay was bad — “It’s sinful.”

They were taught that religion was not a welcoming place for all, until they discovered there was more out there than what their family believed. “When I explored more about other religions I was like, ‘Oh, so it’s not all bad, it can even be a really positive thing in somebody’s life.’”

They’ve since become more devoutly Jewish and find it healing, Shabbat in particular. “It’s an anticapitalistic practice that’s very important to me in my life, and also, as somebody with a lot of chronic illnesses, I need time where I am basically just doing nothing to heal my body and rest my neshama (soul) after a long week of working.”

Still, when they go to visit their family, they aren’t being respected or accepted, so they try and find ways to work around their family’s expectations, like dressing in ways that will be approved of — shorts and a t-shirt instead of long sleeves and a long skirt — or trying to keep kosher in their own quiet way even though their grandmother insists on offering them shrimp in a manner that feels to Andie like it’s a “power play.”

Fortunately, Andie has found their chosen family — people who make them feel seen — throughout their conversion to Judaism while at college and beyond into their new life. “I live 3,000 miles away now and I’ve cultivated a really good group of people who understand my quirks, and I feel very loved.”

And so, it didn’t all start with a joke, but maybe that’s where it all ends.

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Addie’s story

“Don’t mind him, he’s just being cheap like a Jew.”

When Addie, working as a cashier in Foxborough in 2021, heard those words from a customer watching her companion fumble through his wallet, she felt an immediate physical reaction.

But this wasn’t Addie’s first time experiencing antisemitism.

Growing up in a small town southwest of Boston, Addie remembers being one of a handful of Jewish kids in her graduating class of 360 students. From the cliques that formed around church groups to being singled out during her history class unit on Judaism, pervasive feelings and messages of otherness were omnipresent throughout her formative years.

During a lecture on dictators in her freshman year, a classmate turned to her and said, “Addie, you need to go hide because the Nazis are going to come for you.”

“I didn’t think too much of it when it happened,” Addie recalls. “I was a shy kid. I went through the day, didn’t say anything to my teachers, didn’t say anything to anyone else, but I came home and was telling my mom about school, and I said, ‘Oh, this kid said this to me,’ and she sort of just stopped in her tracks and was like, ‘What? Can you repeat that?’ She said, ‘You know that’s not ok, right?’ I told her that I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do.”

Her father called the school, and Addie remembers feeling embarrassed, fearing reprisal and not wanting to draw additional attention to herself. After she met with the principal and told him what happened, the boy was moved across the room away from her, but he never apologized. “I think I kind of knew that nothing was going to be done,” Addie says.

Her mom and dad, however, insisted that calling it out was necessary. “Even if I didn’t realize it at the time, I’m glad they did it, it was a learning and growing moment for me to realize that things like this happen and they happen often.”

During her senior year, a teacher told Addie that her congestion from a cold made her sound like “an old Jewish woman from New York.”

“I had to hold myself back — she was an adult and an authority figure,” Addie says. “Now, looking back, I know I should’ve done or said something. That was another moment.”

Addie believes that these “moments” helped shape her into the person she is today and gave her the courage and confidence to speak up that day in Foxborough.  

Noticing that the man was looking at her and toward Addie with embarrassment, the woman continued, “Oh don’t worry, she’s not Jewish.”

Heart racing, Addie says that she “put the customer service part of [herself] aside” and said, “Actually, yes I am, and you shouldn’t say things like that.” She says that the woman seemed ashamed of what she said but didn’t offer an apology, and Addie’s manager gave her the time to step away and calm down after she explained what occurred.

While she knows antisemitism is never going to completely go away, Addie isn’t hiding, and these experiences have only strengthened her Jewish identity. “I hate that it happened, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it,” Addie says, noting that she shares these incidents as often as she can to encourage others to fight back. “I define it as a source of pride. It’s a badge of honor.”

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Inspiring Anti-Hate Commercial Premieres at Oscars

By Foundation to Combat Antisemitism

Did you know 895 Jewish temples received bomb threats in 2023? This video, “Neighbors,” which debuted during the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 10, recounts the actual events that transpired in an American synagogue that received a bomb threat and was evacuated. In response, the neighboring evangelical church offered their space for the Jewish congregation to conduct their services.

Hate loses when we stand together.

#StandUpToJewishHate

At FCAS (Foundation to Combat Antisemitism), we are dedicated to combating antisemitism through positive messaging and partnerships. Our initiative, Stand Up to Jewish Hate, is designed to empower both non-Jews and Jews to become defenders and upstanders for the Jewish community. We are passionate about promoting understanding, empathy, and tolerance among different groups, and our ultimate goal is to create a more inclusive and accepting world for all.

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Addressing Antisemitism Head-On

By Melissa Garlick, Senior Director of Combating Antisemitism and Building Civic Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Underpinning Dara Horn’s newest piece on antisemitism appearing in The Atlantic, “Why the Most Educated People in America Fall for Anti-Semitic Lies,” is the same premise that grounds CJP’s growing work to combat antisemitism: that “one confounding fact in this onslaught of the world’s oldest hatred is that American society should have been ready to handle it.” Almost six months after the attacks of 10/7, it becomes clearer each day that antisemitism is both pervasive in our society and that American civic society and many of our leaders were not and are still not prepared to handle it.  

It is this exact space that CJP is building out our work to combat antisemitism.  

In this month’s newsletter, we highlight CJP’s increased investments in security for early childhood centers and day schools to ensure that our Jewish communal organizations are prepared on physical security as they are forced to contend with the rise of antisemitism. Our partners at JCRC also wrote this month about growing calls by city councils in Greater Boston to hold public hearings for ceasefire resolutions. While JCRC has worked with council leaders to better prepare them on the complexities of these issues, the public hearings themselves have also brought an onslaught of antisemitic rhetoric and comments. Finally, as CJP builds out and supports work to better train and resource campus administrators with tools on antisemitism, we are highlighting resources for students as anti-Zionism continues on campuses during spring semester.

Through communal security, working with civic leadership, and supporting Jewish students, CJP and its partners are working to address that “confounding fact” Dara Horn so aptly highlighted so that our society once and for all ensures that antisemitism becomes politically and socially unacceptable by addressing it head-on.

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Meet Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism

By Rich Tenorio

As Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism, Michal Cotler-Wunsh has been seeking to forge alliances since the October 7, 2023, Hamas terror attacks on her country. In the U.S., she’s met with multiple officials, from legislators to mayors to university presidents.

She sees a number of possibilities for partnerships, including with fellow antisemitism envoys from other nations, as well as with administrators on college campuses. For her, the need has never been greater: Noting that antisemitism was surging even before the attacks, she cites an even greater rise since then, by hundreds of percentage points. 

“Antisemitism is like any other form of racism and bigotry,” she said. “It cannot be fought alone by Jews. It’s not just a threat to Israel, or Jews around the world. I do believe it is a threat to the foundations of democracies, to shared principles of life and liberty.” (Learn more about how CJP is responding in Greater Boston with its 5-Point Plan to combat Jewish hate.)

“Hopefully we can make a dent in it,” Cotler-Wunsh said, “whether by coalitions of special envoys, legislators around the world, and Jewish and other leadership.”

There are roughly 30 special envoys for combating antisemitism around the world, representing such countries or bodies as the U.S., Canada and the European Parliament.

“They’re not only allies, they’re critical allies,” Cotler-Wunsh said. “Many of them advise their own governments and heads of state. They’re entrusted to monitoring and combating antisemitism.”

Part of this, she said, is through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by over 10,000 entities. She calls it a working definition, meant to be used as an educational resource, not as a censor.

Based in Raanana, she took up her current position only about three weeks before the Oct. 7 attacks. Before that, she had a wide-ranging career that included serving as a member of the Knesset, where she founded an inter-parliamentary task force to combat antisemitism on social media. Raised in Canada, she is the stepdaughter of the former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, whose legal career has included defending both Natan Sharansky and Nelson Mandela at various points.

Building allyship since Oct. 7

Cotler-Wunsh’s collective experience allows her to battle antisemitism on three fronts—in international institutions, on college and university campuses and on social media.

“What I have done over the last several decades includes my own legal work as an activist, lecturer and academic,” said Cotler-Wunsh, who holds a master of laws degree from McGill University in Montreal. “It’s intersected by the research, professional and legislative [spheres]. It has been, over time, focused not just on antisemitism but on its modern, mainstream strain of anti-Zionism, as well as on the positives of Jewish indigeneity, identity and peoplehood.”

Fighting antisemitism on college campuses

On American college campuses, she would like to see more awareness of what she describes as a strong connection between many Jewish students and Zionism.

“I have a very simple demand,” Cotler-Wunsh said. “I expect an equal and consistent application of an infrastructure that protects everybody else…to those who self-identify as Zionist—Jews and non-Jews.” She noted, “Not all Jews have to self-identify as Zionist, but they cannot deny those that do have the right to do so.”

She’s pleased by the reception she’s gotten from high-level administrators. “All of the university leaders have been very civil, as I would expect from conversations with presidents, chancellors and provosts,” Cotler-Wunsh said.

Yet, she added, “It’s the complete opposite with students who may disagree but are unwilling to engage with ideas with which they may disagree in this critical moment of reckoning for academic spaces.”

When Cotler-Wunsh spoke at Stanford University in January, she recounted a particularly tense situation.

“I had to be snuck out the back door by the police,” she said. “I did not walk out the front door like any other human being.” She added that she was escorted out of the event “in the face of demonstrations and chants like, ‘We don’t want no Jew state, we want all of ‘48,’ ‘Zionist, Zionist you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide,’ and, ‘There is only one solution: intifada revolution.’”

Read about how CJP recently provided support to local Hillels to help create safer and more welcoming campuses.

Israel and global Jewry

Despite such experiences, Cotler-Wunsh sees reason for optimism for Israel and global Jewry.

“I do think this [is] a critical moment of reminder that we are a people,” she said. “When you see us as a people, what binds us together is far greater than what sets us apart, enabling [us] to overcome challenges we have faced as a people from time immemorial.”

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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Webinar: Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict

April 17, 2024, 12 p.m.

Register Here


This talk will share the unique characteristics of the approach to teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict adopted at Brandeis University some 19 years ago. It will argue that this unique approach accounts for the civilized conversation and the lack of any emotional explosions in the classroom at Brandeis since 2005. Presented by Shai Feldman, the Raymond Frankel Chair in Israeli Politics and Society at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and Professor of Politics at Brandeis University.

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Webinar: Investigating the Nexus Between Antisemitism, Universities, and Terror Financing

March 13, 2024, 12:00 p.m.

Part of the “Navigating Antisemitism on Campus and Beyond” series presented by the Brandeis University, this talk will delve into the financial aspects of individuals and entities associated with terrorist groups and, in turn, their connection to national organizations influencing campus politics and student groups. Presented by Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President for Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Register Here
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Why Is the World Against Jews? How To Respond During a Time of War

March 13, 2024, 7:30 p.m.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed when seeing statements or hearing from friends about the Israel-Hamas war? Not sure how to engage in a meaningful, productive way? This discussion will help you to respond to statements like, “Israel is committing genocide of the Palestinian people,” and, “The Palestinian people were oppressed by Israel for so long that is no wonder they lashed out on Oct. 7,” and, “Netanyahu is just after Gaza’s resources.”

A mixture of history, politics and parenting, this discussion is designed to give you tools to respond to statements like this. No prior knowledge of the conflict or history is needed. Join us for real information to answer these complex statements.

Speakers:

  • Marc Baker, president and CEO, CJP
  • Emily Briskman, associate vice president, JUF campus affairs and executive director, The Hillels of Illinois at Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago
  • Emily White, assistant vice president of campus affairs and executive director of JUF’s Israel Education Center
Register Here
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What International Holocaust Remembrance Day Means in 2024

By Rich Tenorio

As the Boston Jewish community reflects on the historical tragedy of the Holocaust ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, many of its members are also concerned about a contemporary tragedy: the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terror attacks on Israel. The attacks represent the bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust, and they have been followed by an ongoing war between Israel and Hamas and worldwide unrest over the situation.

What is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and what does it commemorate?
(Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations as an annual event occurring on Jan. 27 of each year. The date marks the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis in 1945 and recognizes the deaths of all Holocaust victims, including Jews, Roma, LGBTQIA+ individuals, disabled people and political prisoners.

Jeremy Burton, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, differentiates its backstory from that of Yom HaShoah, which was created by the Israeli Knesset to commemorate the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Yom HaShoah falls in May, reflecting the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. “There was a long, complicated and interesting debate back in the ‘40s and ‘50s over when Jews should mark and remember the victims of the Holocaust,” Burton says. “A young Jewish state needed heroes to celebrate Jewish strength and active Jewish resistance. It’s why Yom HaShoah falls when it does.”

In contrast, he notes, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was chosen by the “U.N. General Assembly, not by the Jewish community. It’s a slightly different rationale. The world marks this day in January because it was the beginning of the end of the Holocaust.”

Contemporary tensions
New England Holocaust Memorial (Photo: CJP)
New England Holocaust Memorial (Photo: CJP)

This year, research indicates that International Holocaust Remembrance Day will take place in the midst of new fears over antisemitism. Both the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have come out with surveys pointing to an uptick in antisemitism around the U.S. In a survey of Jewish Americans last fall, the AJC found that almost 80% of respondents who had heard about the Oct. 7 attacks felt less safe to some degree. Meanwhile, the ADL reported a 360% increase in antisemitic incidents nationwide in the three months since the attacks, with the majority being “verbal or written harassment.”

“Obviously, in contemporary antisemitic contexts, we are grappling with an existential threat to our community since 10/7,” says Melissa Garlick, senior director of combating antisemitism and building civic engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. “There’s a real reckoning with this form of antisemitism and the safety and security of Jewish people. It’s really critical, as a community, that we understand generational trauma, that we understand Jewish trauma, that we understand how what we’re dealing with today is shaped by history.”

Keeping the memory alive

Francesca Colletti, executive director of Facing History & Ourselves, notes the importance of Holocaust education for the next generation.

(Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem)

“Education is key in addressing the rising antisemitism and hate today,” Colletti says. “In Facing History classrooms, students examine memory and legacy as part of their learning journey. Students, by studying the lessons of history, confront the past so they can examine their own choices and the challenges in the world today. Students study the roots and ongoing rise of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and hate. They also explore opportunities for more compassionate and courageous acts. This year’s theme of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, ‘Recognizing the Extraordinary Courage of Victims and Survivors of the Holocaust,’ reinforces how critical survivor and second/third-generation stories and voices are to understanding and learning the impact of the Holocaust on individual lives. Focusing on the humanity of the victims and learning and hearing their stories allows students to think about their own humanity and their responsibility to confront hate and indifference and work to ‘repair the world.’”

Around 245,000 Holocaust survivors remain worldwide, with most of them women, the Associated Press reported, with the majority of survivors living in Israel. The global population is falling, with 86 years old the median survivor age. “The number of survivors continues to dwindle as people age,” says Emily Reichman, director of volunteer programs for the JCRC. “It’s more important than ever for second-generation and third-generation survivors to share the story of their families. They are now the bearers of their family story. We want to encourage second- and third-generation survivors, as much as possible, to share their family stories.”

Local remembrances

There are several ways for Boston-area Jews to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The JCRC is partnering with other organizations on two such events:

International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration | January 25 | Online

International Holocaust Remembrance Day | January 28 | The Vilna Shul

The Lappin Foundation program is a virtual one, while the Vilna Shul event will be in person, with other partners including the educational nonprofit Facing History & Ourselves and Boston 3G, a resource for third-generation descendants of Holocaust survivors.

Reichman says it’s “more important than ever to commemorate the Holocaust, to learn survivors’ stories [and] to make sure they are carried on through the next generation.”

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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A Guide to Staying Safe at Community Events

By Rich Tenorio

In the wake of the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terror attacks against Israel and subsequent Israeli response, tensions have become inflamed in the U.S., including Greater Boston. For members of the Jewish community who wish to attend public events—whether a pro-Israel rally or Shabbat services at synagogue—there are safety considerations to take into account.

That’s according to Jeremy Yamin, vice president of security and operations at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, who heads the Communal Security Initiative. In a Zoom interview, Yamin detailed best practices that Jews and allies can follow at public events.

Before going

Ask organizers if there will be security, and if so, what type of security will there be?

Think about what kind of event you’re attending. Is it small- or large-scale, indoors or outdoors?

Going to/from
(Photo: Alex Rodas/iStock)

Scan the environs, taking note of whether there is a police or security presence, where you can hide and where you can make an exit.

Think about your attire, including visual representations of Jewishness, such as a kippah, and whether you feel comfortable displaying it on the way to or from an event in addition to at the event itself. “I don’t feel we should be hiding ourselves in any way,” Yamin explains, “but it’s OK if I have concerns about my appearance … [going] to and from might be different from what I wear at a march.” And if you’re concerned about being photographed or filmed on video, a facemask could be useful, Yamin says.

At the event
The Jewish Community Gathers at a rally outside in Boston Common.
(Photo: Jack Brotman)

Keep an eye out for signs of unusual activity, such as a backpack left unattended. If you see something out of place, don’t approach it head-on, but alert someone. If you feel unsafe, you can leave at any time.

If there are counter-protestors, ignore them and avoid confrontations. “If you’re at a rally, terrific,” Yamin says. “If there’s a counter-protest, it’s not the time to engage in a debate where you can change someone’s mind, there’s civil discourse, you agree to disagree. They want to disrupt; they’re looking for [this] to escalate in a short moment, record us, get us to overreact.”

Stay alert at all times. This means not looking down at your smartphone, or rushing straight into a building if you’re running late and looking to make a minyan.

Virtual events
(Photo: Cameron Prins/iStock)

Consider what personal information you’d like attendees to see on-screen. This includes your full name, first and last.

Think about what you’d like to disclose if there are introductions. You don’t have to share your name or location.

It’s up to you about whether or not to turn on your camera.

Good news – with caveats

“There is no imminent known credible threat to the Jewish community in Boston, Greater Boston or Massachusetts, nothing that is imminent or credible,” Yamin says. “That said, the concern is, people can act on their own, without any notification. They’re not going to transmit all the time, ‘Hey, I’m planning to do this, that or the other thing tomorrow.’ They’re not necessarily going to tell ahead of time.”

“We’re constantly communicating with federal, state and local law enforcement and the ADL,” Yamin adds. “The current situation in Israel, U.S. politics and social media have created antisemitic tensions that can fuel incidents with little or no advance warning. So, preparation is key.”

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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Understanding and Addressing Antisemitism: Workshops for Educators

Join Dr. Keren Fraiman and Dr. Dean Bell of the Spertus Institute at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley for a four-session workshop series for Jewish professionals working with teens, college students, and young adults.

Register Now

Monday, January 22 (9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)

Session 1: Histories and Contexts – How has antisemitism been expressed and experienced in different historical and geographic contexts? While this session does not provide a full historical overview, it offers a sampling of some of the most crucial episodes of antisemitism and how they shaped and continue to impact antisemitism today. This session introduces teen educators to the most prominent motifs that their students are likely to encounter and gives them skills to contextualize, discuss and understand them and responses to them.

Tuesday, January 23 (9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)

Session 2: Definitions: Antisemitism, Anti-Israel Expression, and Anti-Zionism – Our teens increasingly report facing various forms of antisemitism in differing contexts. These instances become further blurred with questions about anti-Israel and anti-Zionist expressions. How do we understand antisemitism? How do we define it? How do we differentiate different expressions of it? And why does how we understand it matter? In this session, we explore a range of common definitions of antisemitism that grapple with and, at times, complexify the issue. Participants will learn about the context and origin of the definitions and the benefits and drawbacks of definitions more generally and the potential impact of the IHRA, Jerusalem and Nexus definitions of antisemitism specifically.

Monday, March 4 (9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)

Session 3: Antisemitism, Other Hatred, and Allyship – Antisemitism is one form of hatred. While antisemitism can be unique, it also exists within a larger context of bias. In this session, we consider what is unique about antisemitism—the “longest hatred”—and what it shares with other racisms and hatreds. The session provides an opportunity to think about how we understand biases toward other religious, ethnic, social and gendered groups and how to fight against this hatred. The session also explores how we can form effective alliances across differences.

Tuesday, March 5 (9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)

Session 4: Finding Our Voice in Combating Antisemitism – Social media has provided a fertile (effective, accessible and accelerable) forum for sharing of antisemitism and other hatred. How has antisemitism been expressed on social media, how is the message of antisemitism amplified through technology and in what ways can we use technology to combat antisemitism online? The session also considers the social-emotional and mental health impact of antisemitism and perceived antisemitism and the possible communications strategies for responding—or not responding—to antisemitism when it is expressed. In this concluding session, we offer suggestions for creating education and communications plans to make a real difference in the fight against antisemitism. In addition, this session seeks to tie together the prior sessions exploring the range of effective strategies to combat antisemitism. How do we understand the threat of antisemitism in different contexts? How do we come together and mobilize as a community? How do we communicate the impact of antisemitism on our lives?

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Hillels Receive Grants From CJP To Fight Antisemitism on Campus

By Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Hillels have always been devoted to supporting Jewish life on college campuses and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) has worked closely with on-campus partners around safety and security for years. Now, however, there’s a heightened level of fear on the part of college and university staff and students amid the uptick of antisemitic incidents and vandalism, Hillel officials say. In Greater Boston and around the country, students report feeling isolated and scared. At the same time, campus Hillels grapple with understaffing and depleted resources. 

To buoy their essential work, CJP has created a $360,000 Emergency Security and Antisemitism Support Grant Pool, and the support arrives at a pivotal time. As part of our ongoing 5-Point Plan to combat Jewish hate, these grants will be divided into two parts: first, addressing the increased cost of security, and second, providing additional support as it relates to combating antisemitism crisis response, ranging from student support, staffing, educational programming, and additional security needs.  

The Hillel Council will receive $40,000, while eight local Hillels and eight local Chabad houses will receive $20,000 each, helping to create safer and more welcoming campuses. 

“CJP has been an incredible partner to Hillel Council of New England well before Oct. 7,” says Miriam Berkowitz Blue, executive director of Hillel Council of New England. “In these last few months, we have felt CJP’s support even more through increased opportunities for community building and gatherings—not just for Jewish students, but for campus professionals as well. The success of the student delegation for the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., bringing 200 students together for this momentous event, further demonstrates the impact of CJP’s commitment to fostering a sense of belonging amongst the Jewish student population across Greater Boston. The increased support through this emergency grant will help sustain our Hillel’s efforts to build Jewish student life across campuses so that they feel secure and safe on campus. We are grateful to CJP for their unwavering support at a time when it is needed most.” 

Overall, Hillel professionals say they are increasingly turning to CJP funding to improve physical security in their buildings, as well as for training, guidance on emergency plans and procedures, and as a meaningful partner in conversations with campus law enforcement and security, all while supporting student wellness. 

For example, the Hillel Council of New England has provided services to students from 13 campuses, a significant increase from the seven campuses they usually serve. Hillels are encountering students seeking help for the very first time, they say. Faculty and other university staff are also experiencing similar challenges, and they need support. 

This mirrors nationwide trends: Hillel International has established a national grant pool to support campuses in crisis, receiving requests totaling nearly $835,000 from 99 applications. So far, 87 grants have been awarded, amounting to over $700,000, mainly for security initiatives. 

“This is the most difficult time ever to be Jewish on a college campus. Our students are lonely and afraid—and need Hillel more than ever.  We are deeply appreciative to CJP for being our critical partner in protectingJewish students and fighting antisemitism on campus,says Rabbi Jevin Eagle, executive director of BU Hillel.

Nonetheless, funding gaps persist, officials say, particularly for staffing and ongoing programming. According to Hillel, 52 campuses that have already received funding reported additional need for support. CJP is grateful to be able to offer tangible resources at a turbulent time. 

Dr. Sarah Abramson, senior vice president of strategy and impact at CJP, says, “One of CJP’s most sacred responsibilities is to ensure the safety and security of all our community members, including those on the front lines of the emergency on college campuses. We want Jewish life to flourish where our young adults are growing and learning. CJP is proud to make these grants to our campus partners.”